In a captivating first NBA season that ended with him winning 2020-21 Rookie of the Year award, Hornets star LaMelo Ball wasted very little time showing his immense potential.
His playmaking, court vision and basketball IQ were as good as advertised. His leadership, energy and playstyle was infectious, making everyone around him better and helping his team exceed expectations. His weaknesses weren’t nearly as glaring as many may have thought, crushing almost all doubt forecasted upon the young prospect.
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His jump shot, in particular, was the most questioned aspect of his game ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft.
“Poor shooting mechanics,” The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote, although he did note an “obvious upside” because of his touch on floaters and free throws.
“Questions persist about his shooting ability (he has clear touch, but needs to improve consistency),” The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie said.
“Glaring weakness is his inability to score efficiently. … Jumper needs work,” I wrote for NBA.com.
Could Ball overcome iffy mechanics and poor shot selection? Or would he continue to be an inefficient and inconsistent shooter, allowing defenses to sag off him?
Ball was steady enough from beyond the arc to warrant attention, knocking down a solid 35.2 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie, but teams were still letting him shoot without much concern. Regardless, he did enough to answer those questions, with the next becoming, “OK, but can he do it again?”
It’s a small sample size, but through the first five games of the 2021-22 season, Ball has made it clear that his biggest perceived flaw may actually be a strength.
His mechanics haven’t changed much in terms of release point, but at 6-7, he can still launch his shot over most defenders. He’s doing a much better job of getting his feet set and firing with a balanced base. He was a bit all over the place during his one professional season in the NBL in Australia and again during his rookie season.
As a result, Ball has knocked down 17 3-pointers over five games (tied for fourth-most in the league), converting at an impressive 45.9 percent clip. He already has two games with seven 3-pointers made, making him the only player in the league to bury seven or more triples in multiple games so far.
He’s also extending his range, making a league-leading 11 3-pointers from 26 feet or beyond (roughly three feet past the 3-point line), even surpassing the likes of sharpshooter Stephen Curry, who has nine such makes, according to Basketball Reference.
Ball is shooting a blistering 8-for-11 (72.7 percent) on catch-and-shoot 3s, which is ridiculous, but it’s his efficiency off the dribble that is even more important because of how often the ball is in his hands. Knocking down 40.0 percent (8-for-20) of his pull-up 3s so far this season, Ball could become even more lethal offensively if continues to shoot with that type of confidence off the bounce.
If defenses go under or don’t hedge hard enough on pick-and-rolls, he’s made them pay.
And he’s had no issues creating space to get a shot off.
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And that’s against one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA in Marcus Smart, too.
This is a terrifying development for opposing teams because the more they have to worry about Ball as a 3-point threat, the further the defense has to extend when the ball is in his hands. They’ll also have to guard him much more aggressively on pick-and-rolls.
That’s a dangerous game against a playmaker of Ball’s caliber, which is exactly why, although he’s averaging 19.6 points, his assist numbers are still on par from his rookie year (6.1 per game).
Again, we’re only five games into the new season, so it could just be a hot shooting start that eventually fizzles out. But what if it’s not?
At just 20 years old, Ball is developing faster than anyone could have ever imagined, becoming a well-rounded, prolific offensive threat. The Hornets have bared the fruit of his improvement, owning one of the best records in the league to start the season.
Could this mean Ball’s first-career All-Star bid is on the way in just his second year? If he continues to produce at this rate, he’ll be hard to ignore.
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